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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 19 September, 2018
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Titanic's 'Heartbreak Pier' in Cobh being redeveloped as tourist destination

It’s now going to be refurbished in order to become a tourist destination for Ireland’s Ancient East.

An artist's impression of what the pier will look like.
An artist's impression of what the pier will look like.

WORK HAS BEGUN on restoring a location known as ‘Heartbreak Pier’ in Cobh, Co Cork.

The site was where an estimated one million people left Ireland for the United States, the UK and Australia during the Titanic era, and it has lain in disrepair for quite a number of years.

However, in 2016 it was announced that work would begin on restoring the historic site, and it has now been confirmed that it will be completed by March 2019.

The owners, who run Titanic Experience Cobh – the site where the pier is located – say that the structure will be protected and conserved, ”whilst also becoming a leading and poignant tourist destination for Ireland’s Ancient East”.

With visitor numbers up 11% at the Titanic Experience Cobh, it’s clear there is a growing interest in this period in Irish history.

The pier is at the rear of the White Star Line building in Cobh, where the Titanic Experience is located, but in recent years fell victim to erosion, storm damage and weathering.

“Having transformed the White Star Line building, and seen firsthand the impact of the site on visitors as well as the region, we felt passionately about saving Heartbreak Pier and ensuring that it would not be lost to the elements,” said Gillen Joyce, proprietor and manager of the Titanic Experience.

Redevelopment

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Joyce said that when they first opened the Titanic Experience building, they had no idea who owned the pier.

“We spent three years researching that and we bought the pier in 2015,” he said. The family who owned the pier didn’t realise they owned it – and their anonymity was a condition of the sale.

But the day the pier became his, Joyce feared it was going to be gone. ” It was the day of the major storm in 2015 so I thought it was going to be gone, and I bought it that day,” he recalled.

The Titanic Experience team brought the Port of Cork and Cork County Council in to work with them on the project. Stabilisation works took place to ensure the pier could withstand further bad weather (the works are done in such a way that you can’t see the supports, said Joyce).

“A lot of people suggested we knock down the pier and build a replica or knock it down and put a plaque there. That’s why we got involved in the whole thing, to make sure it was preserved and protected for future generations,” said Joyce. “We wanted it to be iconic and we wanted [the design] to contrast sharply with the existing pier, so you wouldn’t confuse it with the existing pier.”

That’s why they went for a contemporary design for the new addition to the pier, which will enable people to visit and touch the structure. A kiosk on site will also “have a lot of modern technology that will allow people to connect with relatives and also to tell their stories”, said Joyce.

The redevelopment plan will see the creation of a new walkway structure.

“We are developing a theme of Last Step, First Step which represents emigrants’ emotional last footsteps on Irish land before their exciting first steps in lands new,” said Joyce.

“We want people to relive the stories from the past and retell their own stories,” he said. “People will be able to go out and see the pier closely, be able to touch it, interact with it. We have one deck plank left – the idea is people will be able to retrace footsteps of their ancestors. They can step on that plank.”

However, a recent petition against the redevelopment of the pier was set up by some locals. “I think that firstly that there’s an awful lot of people who would be very supportive of the project and recognise the economic worth to the town,” said Joyce when asked about this. “We are hoping it will generate 25-30k visitors a year.”

We think that it will be very strong and positive for the town overall.

He said that the contemporary structure won’t impede people’s views of the pier – “it is not going to be obscured or covered”.

The plans are in for planning permission and statute requirement for foreshore, and it is hoped work will begin towards the end of this year before opening in March 2019.

It is hoped that a lot of the build could be prefabricated offsite, and then slotted into place.

Read: Great tragedy of 500 lives lost in sunken mail boat RMS Leinster retold>

Read: A former Cork prison has won an award ahead of the Eiffel Tower, Buckingham Palace and the Colosseum>

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